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Transitions from Cambodia to The Hague-Laos, Viet Nam, and Hong Kong
I flew from Phnom Penh to Vientiane, Laos, staying one night there before making my way to Luang Prabang via the small town of Vang Vieng. Upon missing the morning bus and finding out that two afternoon buses had broken down, I sought some other way of getting there and ultimately found myself in a “shared taxi,” which in Laos apparently means sitting in the back of a pickup truck with as many people as will fit. This is my ride from Vientiane to Vang Vieng, a 4+ hour trip. About three hours into it, the driver realized that he had not picked up enough additional passengers to make the trip cost effective for himself, and ordered us to get out of the truck so that he could leave. We ended up taking another, more crowded truck the rest of the way, our tickets having been sold for a fraction of what we originally paid.
I made it through Vang Vieng and up to Luang Prabang, where I settled for the remainder of my time in Laos. A UNESCO World Heritage site, Luang Prabang is home to a number of beautiful Buddhist temples. However, having seen my fair share of temples in Cambodia and Thailand, I briefly toured the sights and then headed a few kilometers outside the town to a series of nearby waterfalls with a few travelers I met on the bus to Luang Prabang. We spent the afternoon hiking up the waterfalls, swimming, and diving.
After about a week in Laos, I flew to Ha Noi, Viet Nam to meet up with my mother. After the easygoing, slow pace of life in Laos, Ha Noi took a bit of getting used to! We spent a few days touring the city and shopping for souvenirs or gifts.
Mom and I took the night train to Sa Pa, a tiny (but now very touristy) village in northeastern Viet Nam, near the Chinese border. Here we spent a few days relaxing in the mountains and hiking through the rice paddies, which were just starting to be planted.
Sa Pa is home to a number of mountain tribes. On our various hikes, we were able to visit the villages and homes of the H’Mông, Black Thai, and other hill tribe peoples. Within the past ten years, tourism has almost drastically changed the social/cultural landscape of Sapa and its surrounding villages. Though agriculture still dominates the way of life in these mountain villages, so does the crafting and sale of blankets, jewelry, and other souvenirs to the large number of tourists hiking through. As is so often the case, this tourism boom has undoubtedly brought significant economic benefit to the hill tribe people, but perhaps at equally significant cultural costs.
After our trip to Sa Pa, Mom and I took a two-day boat trip out to Ha Long Bay. Though extremely foggy and rainy, the trip was again very relaxing and the surroundings beautiful. Our boat moved slowly between the thousands of tiny islands in the Bay, stopping for short cave excursions or to explore the larger islands a bit more.
Hong Kong was quite a drastic change from Viet Nam and (particularly) Laos. Almost immediately upon arriving in the city, I was struck by how clean and organized it felt! It was also a bit of a shock to once again be surrounded by car traffic, skyscrapers, public transportation not consisting of the option between moto, tuk-tuk, or cyclo. Mom and I spent our first day or two in Hong Kong exploring the city itself, which included an amazing light show along the water one evening.
Like most tourists, we set aside one afternoon to take the trip to the Big Buddha–an immense, outdoor sitting Buddha which lies at the top of approximately 200 steps. Though I’d seen my fill of Buddhas by this point, it was quite an impressive sight, and the trip out to see it (which consisted of one or the more harrowing bus rides I’ve taken) was an event in itself.